“How did an American family end up in the heart of the ISIS caliphate?”
Samantha Elhassani (nee Sally) insists, “I’m not a bad person — I’m not a monster”.
Yet she lived in the ISIS caliphate. Her ten-year-old son could make a suicide belt and be featured in ISIS propaganda. She owned slaves. And travelled to Hong Kong to deposit large sums of cash and gold and bought tactical combat gear there. And perhaps most astonishing, she was an FBI informant.
The story sounds unbelievable and Samantha says so herself. However, in 2018 she returned to the US into the custody of law enforcement. At the end of 2020, she was convicted of financing terrorism and sentenced to prison for 78 months.
Investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Joshua Baker untangles Samantha’s story in the podcast I’m Not A Monster and the film Return from ISIS. Jointly produced by the BBC and PBS, the podcast and film examine how an American woman and her children could possibly end up with ISIS in Syria. Joshua Baker brings listeners to places both frightening and familiar, from a former torture prison to a children’s swing set in the backyard of a home in Indiana.
In this episode of MetaPod, we talk to Joshua Baker about his mission to chronicle Samantha’s unique story. Josh discusses his journalistic career working in high-risk conflict zones and with vulnerable people. We also discuss the political and cultural understanding between countries of the Middle East and the West.
Please be advised that some of our discussion revolves around violence, coercion and other topics that might be unsettling for some audiences.
Show notes for I’m Not A Monster
- Return from ISIS on BBC Panorama or PBS Frontline
- Former Elkhart, Indiana Resident Sentenced to Over Six Years in Prison for Financing of Terrorism, US Department of Justice press release
- I Went To Syria To Find The American Family Who Joined Isis, Huffington Post interview with Joshua Baker
- I’m Not A Monster awarded Edward R Murrow Award
About Joshua Baker
Joshua is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist and podcast creator. He prides himself on creating compelling human stories, often dealing with complex and emotive topics. He is the writer and host of I’m Not A Monster.
Josh combines journalistic rigour, cinematic sensibility and compelling narrative structure to create work that is both accessible and in-depth. He recognises story creating is a team game and loves bringing people together to make a collaborative process.
Josh has a track record for working with vulnerable contributors suffering from trauma or mental health issues, including children and highly sensitive sources. He has secured a plethora of specialist access, be that with terrorist groups, elite military units, whale hunters, sex workers, or friends and family of contributors. As well as working in the UK and USA, he has worked substantially in hostile environments around the world.